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Vancouver Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher (51) fights for control of the puck with Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Eric Robinson (50) during third period NHL action in Vancouver, Sunday, March 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

With five losses in their last six games, the Vancouver Canucks remain in a playoff position. But Canucks players admitted they were frustrated after dropping a 2-1 decision to the Columbus Blues Jackets on Sunday at Rogers Arena.

“We're in games,” said Tyler Toffoli, who led Vancouver with 10 shot attempts but was held off the scoresheet. “We feel like we should be winning and we're playing good. But it's just the time of the year where everybody's playing good -if not great - and finding ways to win.

“We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and come together to say, `It's time to start playing great hockey and not just good hockey, because it's that time of year.”'

Toffoli's chances included a shot that was scooped off the goal line after beating Columbus netminder Elvis Merzlikins, and another shot that caught a piece of Merzlikins' glove before bouncing off the goal post.

“I should have had three goals at least,” he said. “But you've just got to move forward here.”

Merzlikins made 26 saves in his return to action after missing four games with a concussion.

“It was hard to get back in the game,” said the 25-year-old rookie, who boasts at .923 save percentage through 33 games this season. “I don't know if Vancouver is a really quick team or it was just the feeling that in five minutes I was like, 'Wow, it's really fast, the game is.”'

Emil Bemstrom and Eric Robinson scored for Columbus (33-22-15).

Elias Pettersson replied for the Canucks (35-27-6), a week after Vancouver failed to defend a third-period road lead against the Blue Jackets. The Canucks held a 27-22 edge in shots on goal.

Following a sluggish first period that saw Vancouver outshoot Columbus 6-3, the Blue Jackets opened the scoring 7:18 into the second.

Pierre-Luc Dubois outmuscled Alex Edler for a loose puck along the end boards, then fed the puck to the slot. A wide-open Bemstrom beat Demko to the stick side for his ninth goal of the season.

“I'm trying to find those open spaces on the ice,” said Bemstrom, who scored his 10th of the year. “I got one one-timer today, but I have to keep finding that ice.”

Robinson extended the lead to 2-0 on the Blue Jackets' 10th shot of the game, beating Demko with a slap shot for his seventh goal of the year with 28 seconds left in the middle period.

The Canucks finally solved Merzlikins on their 21st shot of the night, when Pettersson burst out of the penalty box after serving an elbowing minor and slid the puck five-hole for his 27th of the season at 8:19 of the third.

“I have my elbow out, but it's not my intention to elbow him,” said Pettersson of his penalty against Robinson. “He started hitting my back and my elbow is out. He basically skates into my arm.

“I was trying to be positive, so I just tried to use my anger as fuel.”

With the win, Columbus moves into the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 81 points, two ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders.

The Canucks remain tied with the Predators and Jets at 76 points, but Vancouver holds the second wild-card spot with one more win than Nashville and a game in hand over Winnipeg.

The loss gives Vancouver a 1-2-0 record on its current homestand, which wraps up on Tuesday against the New York Islanders.

NOTES: Ryan Murray returned to the Columbus lineup after missing Saturday's game in Edmonton … Brock Boeser skated with the Canucks on Sunday morning for the first time since suffering a rib cartilage injury on Feb. 8. His return date remains unknown … The Canucks celebrated Minor Hockey Night on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2020.